Deadwood on the Hudson

tobias seamonWriting at The Morning News, Tobias Seamon has been chronicling the history of Henry Hudson's famous 1609 voyage -- though this version is probably a little more colorful than the one you already know:

Reading the publicity attached to the quadricentennial leaves readers deluged with cheery keynotes like tolerance, diversity, religious freedom, and melting pot. It'd be unfair to categorize the publicity blitz as a whitewashing of the colonial Dutch record, but still, the realities of these settlements were often much more violent than portrayed. Fort Orange and Manhattan's New Amsterdam, which was capital of New Netherland, were hardly gems of the Dutch mercantile empire. Rather, they were frontier settlements whose chief governors were a series of drunkards, swindlers, war-mongering incompetents, and myopic tyrants.

The title of the series: "Deadwood on the Hudson." Part two was posted today.

Seamon is an Albany native. He wrote a piece for TMN called "Albany, Counting the Ways" back in 2003. From that essay:

Albany, where the streets aren't numbered. Rather, most of the streets are named after birds. For blocks and blocks, Eagle, then Dove, then Quail, and so on. One bird after another. If you ever get lost in Albany, try to remember the last bird you passed.

image: The Morning News


For a great history and good read (really) on New Amsterdam, check out Russell Shorto's "The Island at the Center of the World." There's also a Web site:

"Albany, Counting the Ways" was one of the most snide pieces I've ever read. Being irreverent is one thing, but cheap shots like calling state workers "bureaucratic robots," or suggesting all the legislators and college students are drunks isn't even clever. Just kind of sophmoric. Hopefully Seamon's historical take on Albany has more originality (and research), but it looks derivative and based on the work of other historians and writers.

Island at the Center of the World was recommended to me and it's on my shelf waiting to be read. I think I'm going to make it next on my "must read" list.

Although it's out of print, another Dutch history book that's just as fun and readable as Shorto's is Henry and Barbara Van der Zee's A Sweet and Alien Land, published by Viking in 1978. Actually has a lot more stuff about Ft Orange/Albany area than Island at the Center of World. Another must read for anyone interested in colonial Dutch history, Amazon might have links to used copies .

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